Ports Primer: 3.3 Federal and International Governance
The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government jurisdiction over the navigable waters of the United States.
- Eighteen federal departments and agencies have a role in governance.1
- The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have the primary delegated authority.2
- No lead agency exists; instead, agencies manage their responsibilities separately.3
- The Committee on the Marine Transportation SystemConsists of all the intermodal components that are part of the maritime domain, including ships, ports, inland waterways, intermodal rail and trucks, and other users of the maritime system. (CMTS) acts as a coordinating body among federal agencies.4
The International MaritimeLocated on or near the sea. Commerce or navigation by sea. The maritime industry includes people working for transportation (ship, rail, truck and towboat/barge) companies, freight forwarders and customs brokers; stevedoring companies; labor unions; chandlers; warehouses; ship building and repair firms; importers/exporters; pilot associations, etc. Organization (IMO), a special agency of the United Nations, is responsible for additional oversight, including safety, security and pollution concerns. Vessels are regulated by the IMO and international treaties.
Current Federal Roles5
According to the U.S. Maritime Administration, the Transportation Research Board identifies the main roles relating to ports and governance over navigable waters currently undertaken by the federal government as:
- “Constructing, operating and maintaining the navigable channels
- Managing the traffic on the waterways
- Providing mariners with aids to navigation, charts and information on water and weather conditions
- Regulating the safety and environmental compatibility of vessels
- Responding to marine accidents that threaten public safety and the environment
- Helping to finance the highways that connect marine ports and terminals to the larger transportation system
- Ensuring the security of the Marine Transportation System and its many components.”
Federal Agencies with Current Oversight6
Additional information on regulation of the environment by EPA and other agencies is provided in Section 7. For a full list of Federal programs that apply to the Marine Transportation System, see the Appendix.
International Maritime Organization
Maritime shipping is an international industry. Because ships are flagged to their nation of origin, an international agency is needed to provide global oversight and guidance.
The International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, provides a regulatory framework for the international shipping industry. The IMO sets standards for safety, security and environmental performance. For example, in 2010, the IMO designated waters off of North American coasts as an Emissions Control Area (ECA) and developed standards that were designed to reduce air pollution from ships. IMO actions require member countries to sign onto conventionsAn international agreement. as part of the process for individual governments to accept the action.
For more information: